10.19.2010

A Jar-ring Experience

Jar's exterior
Finally going to eat at Jar! 

Anticipation of a great meal is often what makes me want to try a new restaurant. Throw in a Blackboard Eats (BBE) discount, and the want escalates to a need.

A few months ago I obtained a BBE coupon for Jar, Suzanne Tracht's upscale "modern chophouse" in Los Angeles. Jar was a restaurant I had wanted to try ever since seeing Chef Suzanne compete on Top Chef Masters in 2009.

With Mr. DG out of the country visiting relatives for almost one month, we weren't able to go to Jar until the day before the offer expired. Even though he had jet lag, Mr. DG was willing to come to Jar for a 9 pm reservation on a Tuesday. My brother, David, also joined us.

OPENER: Bread + Sweet Butter
Crusty loaf of bread w/sweet, smooth butter
Luckily, it's hard to mess up butter.

I will say that I thought a restaurant of this level would have its servers place a napkin in the lap of its customers. No, I didn't lose the use of my arms, and, no, I'm not a princess that expects the staff to treat me like the Queen of England. However, I've eaten at restaurants with . . . lower reputations that have provided this small gesture of gentility. That Jar didn't do this was a little surprising, but my excitement at eating at Jar excused the oversight.

Prix Fixe Options at Jar
The Blackboard Eats prix fixe menu at Jar
The Blackboard Eats prix fixe menu at Jar

When the restaurant called to confirm my reservation, they also asked if I had a BBE code. I said, yes, and that's why we were automatically presented with the Blackboard Eats prix fixe menu. There were a few appetizers that we could add to our menu, including crab deviled eggs, black mussels, oysters on the half shell, fried ipswich clams and tempura squash blossoms. For another $5, we had the option of a wine pairing to go with our meal. I opted to go wine-less.

FIRST COURSE: Jar's Wedge Salad
Jar's Wedge Salad
A plate of blue cheese dressing and a side of lettuce


The three of us each chose one of the appetizers: my brother ordered the wedge salad, Mr. DG got the soup of the day (tomato) and I got the butter lettuce salad. I expected these first courses to set the tone for the rest of the meal. They did, but not in a positive way.

FIRST COURSE: Butter Lettuce Salad w/Breakfast Radishes + Parmesan
Butter Lettuce Salad with Breakfast Radishes + Shards of Parmesan
Note: breakfast radishes taste just like regular radishes. They're just eggplant-shaped.

My salad was underwhelming, unfortunately. Honestly, it wasn't any better than a salad I or Mr. DG could make at home. With such simple ingredients (butter lettuce, breakfast radishes and parmesan shards in a lemony dressing), I assumed there would be some extra bit of "oomph" to elevate the salad. Not here. My brother's wedge salad was suffocating under a mass of blue cheese dressing. He said it was so strong, he couldn't taste anything but blue cheese -- overall, it was too overwhelming and unbalanced.

FIRST COURSE: Jar's Soup of the Day - Tomato
Jar's Soup of the Day: Tomato
A bowl of tomato soup - meh

Mr. DG's tomato soup was okay, but not, again, anything out of the ordinary. So now that we've had our first courses, we were still hoping that the mediocrity of this course would not be an indicator of the rest of our meal.

FIRST COURSE: Crab Deviled Eggs
Are you sure there's crab in there?

FIRST COURSE: Crab Deviled Eggs
Oh, yeah --almost forgot. We ordered the crab deviled eggs. I guess the dark little mass on top of the eggs is supposed to be the crab. Honestly, all I could taste was deviled egg (again, nothing special) and that was it.

Next.

ENTRÉE: Signature Pot Roast
ENTRÉE: Signature Pot Roast
Will it be mouth-wateringly tender? The suspense is killing me.

Onto the entrée. All of us opted for the Signature Pot Roast. I had read reviews of this dish where people waxed rhapsodically about how the pot roast melted in their mouth. Well, this I HAD to try. And, really, if this is the "Signature" dish at Jar, why wouldn't I get it?

The pot roast comes with a choice of two side dishes. We each ordered the mashed potatoes and the pea tendrils. Each side comes in its own dish for each person. So there were six bowls on the table, plus our entrees...it was kind of crowded, honestly. I can say that the mashed potatoes were absolutely delicious - fluffy, flavorful and decadent. The best thing I ate all night.

SIDE DISH: Sauteed Pea Tendrils
SIDE DISH: Sauteed Pea Tendrils
Does this look a bit messy? Or am I mistaking "rustic" for sloppy?


Presentation-wise, the pea tendrils looked as if they'd been tossed into the bowl from ten feet away. It was so messy -- tendrils were haphazardly hanging over the edges of each of the bowls. It made me wonder if the expediter had fallen down and tangled himself in a net of wayward pea tendrils that didn't make it in.

Back to the pot roast. No melting sensation, in the mouth or otherwise. It was like pot roast I could get at a family restaurant for 1/2 the price. After the reviews raving about this dish -- yeah, I was pretty disappointed. And annoyed, at this point. Maybe mine was the only one that was sort of tough? No, Mr. DG and my bro also felt the same way.

Soooooo, by this point my expectations for an amazingly awesome meal have been dashed. Utterly. Perhaps dessert will salvage the remainder of this meal? The options on the menu read butterscotch pudding, banana cream pie or sorbet. When we placed our orders, the waiter told us not to worry -- we can order dessert after dinner. At the time, this struck me as odd because the dessert is included in the prix fixe, and there are only three options. When you have a prix fixe, don't you order all three courses at once? At least, this is what I was used to. The little voice in my head thought, "They better not run out of that banana cream pie!"

DESSERT: White Peach Cobbler
DESSERT: White Peach Cobbler
The white peach cobbler with the ubiquitous vanilla bean ice cream

Well, I guess the kitchen didn't hear my little voice because they ran out of banana cream pie. My second choice: butterscotch  pudding (ordinarily first on my list, but because the butterscotch budino is so ridiculously good at Pizzeria Mozza, I didn't think Jar could beat Mozza). What do you know? They were out of butterscotch pudding, too! The server tried to put as positive a spin on the replacements as possible -- chocolate pudding and a white peach cobbler with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream -- but we weren't really buying it. Sigh. The cobbler seemed to be an "oh-crap-we're-out-of-dessert-quick-throw-a-cobbler-together" decision. I am not a chocolate person, and I didn't want sorbet, so I chose the cobbler. Mr. DG and David chose the same, too.

How was the cobbler? Okay - probably as good as something I could make myself. The "white" peaches? They were yellow. It was the perfect ending to a perfect meal. And by "perfect," I do mean disappointing.

My stomach's-eye view of Jar from our table
My stomach's-eye view of Jar from our table
The Service
Our server was friendly, but not overly attentive. The busboys and runners were not the most professional. Not rude, but there was nothing about this meal that made you feel you were having a spectacular culinary experience. At one point, a busboy removed our bread  plates along with the first course plates, and no one bothered to return with new bread plates for a good 10-15 minutes.

Honestly, I could have had the same level of food and service at my local family restaurant. And I wouldn't have been so disappointed because I wouldn't have dropped $50/head (incl. tax and tip) to get the same quality.

Ambience is intimate and dark. Really dark. The lighting was so low, it was hard for my lens to focus. This is why my photos have such a weird sepia tinge to them. I hate using flash, so these photos are as good as it gets. Also, it's not the most conversation-friendly environment -- it gets quite loud in the dining room.

I know there are plenty of people who have enjoyed Jar, and I was truly hoping -- and expecting -- to be one of those lucky patrons. With the passing of each course though, my hopes dwindled precipitously. I know kitchens can have "off" nights, but from reading other people's reviews, I don't think mine was an unusual experience. I would be willing to give Jar another shot, if I didn't have to shell out my own cash. For now, I will spend my money elsewhere.

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